How Missing My Deadline Brought life to My Novel - Writer's Digest

How Missing My Deadline Brought life to My Novel

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I had a conference call with my publisher about a week before my husband’s emergency brain surgery. I remember pacing outside, in the December cold, with the phone pressed against my ear and trying to carry on a normal conversation while also sneaking glances through the living room windows to make sure my husband and our two young daughters were okay.


Column by Jolina Petersheim, author of THE ALLIANCE
(June 1, 2016, Tyndale House Publishers). She is also the 
bestselling author of THE OUTCAST, which Library Journal called
“outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and
named one of the best books of 2013. She and her husband
share the
same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that
originated in
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they
recently relocated
from the mountains of Tennessee to the
Driftless Region of
Wisconsin, where they live on a farm with
their two young
daughters. Jolina blogs regularly at

Later, my editor told me she knew something was wrong because I was not my typically chatty self. She feared I was anxious about my manuscript, THE ALLIANCE, which was giving me more trouble than my two previous books. Though I was indeed anxious about my novel, I was more anxious about my husband.

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How could I tell my publisher my husband’s headaches were making it hard to focus on my novel? It sounded like a lame excuse, so I kept those worries to myself until I simply couldn’t.

The night before my husband’s surgery to remove a rare, benign brain tumor, I posted a blog to my website, which I wrote in the small hours while sitting in the bathroom of his hospital room so the tapping of keys wouldn’t wake him up.

I was scheduled for another conference call with my publisher after Christmas, but once they read that post, they contacted me and canceled the call, graciously telling me to instead focus on my family.

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For weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I set my manuscript to the side and focused on my husband’s healing and on keeping our home life as normal as possible for our two young girls.

As strange as it may sound, looking back, I can see those excruciating weeks pulled my fiercely independent husband and me together like never before. We cherished our precious family unit with the tenacity of shipwreck survivors, holding each moment close, even through the pain.

After my husband’s incision healed, and the harsh Wisconsin winter thawed, I found that my creativity had returned with the spring. Suddenly, THE ALLIANCErevolving around a Mennonite woman, Leora, who strives to stay true to her beliefs while helping her family survive against insurmountable odds—was my own story. Therefore, the novel went from being a deadline I feared, to a lifeline that allowed me to process what had transpired over the past few months.

I know, without having experienced my husband’s surgery, THE ALLIANCE would neither be as strong, nor would the questions posed be ones I’ve pondered in my own heart.

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I would, no doubt, have preferred to strengthen the manuscript through some other means; and yet, I’m also aware that the story would not ring as true if I hadn’t lived through some portion of the harsh, survivalist environment depicted in the novel. So I am most grateful for this journey, but if life is bound to imitate art, then—next time—I might switch an apocalyptic setting for a romantic comedy on the beach.


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